The Angriest Man Alive

The post office has proven a cruel mistress this month.  A couple exciting new releases I've been planning to cover have had a difficult time finding their way to me.  But that's okay; they're close now.  And anyway, I have an M.I.A. post I've been meaning to write, ideally before the end of Pride Month.  So here we go, let's do it today.  This is about the all too brief filmography of Wally White.
White comes out of NYU, and got his first feature film picked up for distribution by Miramax, which was quite a coup for the time, but also why it's still a DVD-only release in 2023.  He produced, wrote, directed and starred in Lie Down With Dogs, a relatively early entry in queer cinema.  It's from 1995, so it's not like a groundbreaking forerunner, but it's on the crest of that queer indie tidal wave.  Especially since we're told in-film that this isn't intended to be an "important" Longtime Companion type of film, but just a fun, comic presentation of one gay man's story.

And look, responses to this film have always been all over the map, from raves to pans.  The hosts of the Bad Gay Movies podcast unanimously agreed that this was "84 minutes of brutal torture."  Which, I mean, come on, guys...  They raise some legit points, and some flaws are obvious enough they didn't need to be raised.  Putting that cute little dog on the top of the poster is a cheap trick, too, considering it never appears in the movie.  But this is still a delightful, scrappy little indie comedy that was a minor breakout success because of its legit charms, even if it hasn't aged perfectly well.
Let's start with the negatives, I guess, so we can end on the positives.  This is the story of White's summer in Provincetown, known for being a seasonally gay vacation hot spot.  It's all told from his point of view, he is front and center of every scene, and even frequently breaks the fourth wall.  So a lot, lot, lot of your response to this film will be based squarely on your reaction to this man, personally.  If you find him likeable, you'll coast right over all the bumps in the road.  If you find him annoying, you'll surely be entrenching yourself deeper and deeper into an irreversible hate-fest.

For my part, and clearly a lot of fans out there, I think he succeeds as an affable, relatable guy.  But he's the kind of writer who puts his flaws into his comedy, so there's a lot to dislike about him.  He makes fun of people, he's on a self-absorbed quest to find himself and he's self pitying despite living a hot, romantically charged life in a resort town most viewers at home could probably only dream of.  If you're bothered by unspoken class issues in Sofia Coppola films, or can't get past how the women in Pride & Prejudice complain about their poverty despite living in a huge sea-side cottage with servants, this movie will probably rub you the wrong way, too.  There's also a scene where he does an impression of a Jamaican woman that's hard not to read as at least a little racist.
The pros?  It's constantly inventive, with animated sequences, creative photography and successfully manages to juggle different styles of humor, from silly to naturalistic.  The relationship drama is genuine enough to really draw you in to the character's plight.  It tackles AIDS in an authentic, subtle way that manages not to feel preachy or avoidant.  And it's got this great vérité approach, with its stolen shots and authentic locations, where you really get a sense of the actual Provincetown scene as it was in 1995.  Some scenes have a real Hollywood throwback artifice, but at other times it's like White is stepping through a participatory documentary.  It all comes to a head in moments like when he reads through the classifieds and breaks down the letter codes in guest house listings.
2003 Miramax DVD.
Since Miramax's DVD is likely to be the only presentation we ever get of this, we can be thankful it's at least anamorphic widescreen (a pillarboxed 1.66:1) and properly progressive (not interlaced).  It's fairly soft and murky, but a lot of that is surely down to this being a shoestring 16mm film that was blown up to 35.  It really makes you wonder what could be done with this if it were restored in HD.  Would it look vastly transformed with bold colors and clean lines, or almost the same?  I wish we could find out.

The Dolby Digital stereo track is clean, and though the case only mentions Spanish subtitles, happily it also includes English ones. There are no extras, not even the trailer, just a general ad for Miramax films.
Now, as far as most of the world is concerned, Lie Down With Dogs is White's one and only film, although apparently he'd also made some short films beforehand.  But Dogs is the only film that was ever released, and sadly, he committed suicide in 2004.  But that's not the whole story.  In 1998, White wrote, produced, directed and starred in a second feature called Waldo Walker.  It was completed but never released.  However it was leaked onto the internet a long time ago, so the world's been able to see it.  It was fairly low res, and it feels like a rough cut, but it's a pretty wild and original film, taking the sparks of creativity and originality in Dogs and taking things even further.  It co-stars Bash Halow from Dogs, along with Rainn Wilson, Sylvia Miles and Louisse Lasser.
Wally White plays Waldo White, who's plagued by the recent discovery of a lost film called "The Angriest Man Alive," about Waldo Walker, who White also plays.  The film bounces back and forth between Waldo White's story and the film within a film.  Waldo White's problem, besides getting fired and being henpecked by a shrill fiance (yes, Wally's playing straight this time) is that everyone he meets conflates him and the movie character they see on TV and expect him to burst out in rage.  Superficially, Waldo's path crosses with an eccentric young artist, who he of course falls head over heels for, and he enlists his personal assistant (Wilson) to help him find her.  Subtextually, the effects films have on people is a movies have on people.  A Bar Mitzvah is held up by two criminals imitating Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth in Pulp Fiction, we see news reports of a woman who shot a glee club after seeing a movie called Mama Wanna Get the Glee Club, and another about the (very real) incident where teenagers got themselves killed reenacting the famous laying in traffic scene from The Program.  White's transformation into the angriest man alive, illustrated by him shaving his head and sitting naked on the floor of his empty apartment hints at some of the issues the real White was contending with in his last years, which adds another meta layer to the story.
If you haven't gathered yet, this film is super eccentric.  It's an even broader comedy (our hero stays at the "Damfino" hotel, leading to constantly recurring Abbot & Costello-style puns) with even loftier art film aspirations that Lie Down With Dogs.  There's a Grease-inspired musical number on a subway car.  Lasser throws a wheelchair at White because she's decided he's really "Dr Kent" and responsible for all her medical problems.  She has a screaming rant at a desk clerk about how she never won an Emmy.  Scenes segue between each other by cutting to a trio of unrelated Fly Girl-style dancers, apropos of nothing.  The lines blur between the Walker's world and White's world.  An apocalyptic cult afraid of the pending millennium meet up in Walker's hotel.  To be perfectly honest, this is not half as funny or charming as Dogs, which is probably why it never found a release, but White himself is as likeable an on-camera presence as ever, and the story sure is ambitious and wild.  It deserves some kind of an audience, if only as a crazy spectacle.
So yes, I'd love to see blu-ray restorations of both (and his short films, too), though I acknowledge that's an obviously long shot.  But I can imagine re-scanning the negatives, organizing a retrospective interviewing the cast and crew who worked with White... I believe people would want to see that.  I know I would, as an honest to goodness Wally White fan.

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